Mental illness — sometimes called the “no-casserole illness” because of the view it’s a character defect or weakness — is present even in communities of faith.
May is Mental Health Month. Throughout the month, the National Alliance of Mental Illness in Georgia is conducting a Faith Outreach Initiative, getting the word out to congregations about the disease.
In Columbus, bulletin inserts are being sent to local congregations. And Monday, an Atlanta physician, Dr. Branko Radulovacki, will keynote an educational forum in Columbus to talk about ways the faith community can help. You don’t have to be a member of NAMI to attend.
One in four people is affected annually by mental illness.
“Anywhere between 60 and 70 percent of people, when faced with a crisis, turn to their clergy,” said Mimi Marlowe, president of NAMI Columbus, “but oftentimes the clergy are not able to help them. We really need to be a resource to them.”
Just as illnesses such as diabetes and heart trouble and cancer require care and treatment, so does mental illness, according to NAMI material.
In a recent study of Christian church members who approached their church for help with a personal or family member’s diagnosed mental illness, researchers found that more than 32 percent were told by their pastor that they or their loved one did not really have a mental illness.
“The results are troubling because it suggests individuals in the local church are either denying or dismissing a somewhat high percentage of mental health diagnosis,” study leader Matthew Stanford, Ph.D., professor of psychology and neuroscience at Baylor University in Texas, told MSNBC. “Those whose mental illness is dismissed by clergy are not only being told they don’t have a mental illness, they are also being told they need to stop taking their medication. That can be a very dangerous thing.”
The results, based on surveys of 293 individuals, were published in a 2008 edition of Mental Health, Religion and Culture.
Baylor researchers also found that women were more likely than men to have their mental disorders dismissed by the church.
“I use a quote: Tell your story and see who listens,’ ” Marlowe said. “Unfortunately, sometimes people are told: ‘Just pray more.’ Yes, you need faith to stay strong, but you might need other things like medication and counseling.”
NAMI is a national network of people who volunteer to work together to improve the lives of people who are affected by a wide range of serious biological brain disorders. Meetings are held the third Monday of the month. In addition, there are two weekly NAMI Connection (Adult Recovery) support groups and one weekly Families/Friends Support Group.
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Allison Kennedy, reporter, can be reached at 706-576-6237.